June 1, 2011 11:35 AM
EUREKA, Mo. - Six Mexican gray wolf pups have been born at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka. For the first time, viewers will be able to follow the rarely seen first weeks of the wolves’ family life online.
The pups born May 1 are the second litter born to parents Perkins and Abby who had their first litter last year. The pups, five females and one male, are one of only four litters to be born in 2011 and their very existence has national and international implications for this endangered species.
“To be able to broadcast streaming video of these endangered wolf pups and their adult parents is an amazing feat we have never tried before,” said Ralph Pfremmer, board chairman of the EWC. “This will give everyone an opportunity to see these remarkable keystone predators inside the wolves’ lair.”
Pfremmer remarked that recent online, live video of bald eagle chicks and even common domestic dogs have been Internet sensations visited by millions of viewers.
“We hope the public has that same interest in these very rare wolves because we need to find significant donations to raise them and many of our other wolves so many can be returned to the wild.”
Critically endangered, only 50 Mexican gray wolves—often referred to as “El Lobos”—are living outside captivity in New Mexico and Arizona. The Endangered Wolf Center has been the birth site for 170 Mexican grays. At least one alpha member of each existing wild pack can trace its ancestry directly to the Endangered Wolf Centerwhich has been called “the cornerstone of the Mexican gray wolf program” by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Hunted, trapped and poisoned for more than a century by ranchers and the expanding population in the western states, the Mexican gray had been nearly eliminated from the planet. Only the critical and painstaking work of the EWC and a handful of similar captive breeding centers have begun the difficult process of bringing the species back from the brink over the past 29 years. The Mexican gray was designated an endangered species in 1976, and was considered extinct in the wild until their reintroduction in 1998 into Arizona and New Mexico.
The pups mother, Abby, was born in 2004 into a large litter of pups. She was injured at six months jumping onto a den roof and later removed from her pack. Proud wolf father Perkins, a year younger than Abby, was from the first successful artificially inseminated litter of Mexican gray wolves to be born in captivity and was partially hand-raised.
Perkins was named in honor of the Endangered Wolf Center’s founder, naturalist and zoo director, Dr. Marlin Perkins by famed actress Betty White.
Initially introduced in late 2009 with the hope that they would become a mating pair, Abby and Perkins bonded. On May 2, 2010, Abby gave birth to a litter of five healthy pups. Both being good nurturing parents and extremely valuable genetically to the population, Abby and Perkins were approved to breed again in 2011. They were seen mating in February 2011 resulting in their latest litter. These pups will be one of the very rare “multigenerational” packs in captivity. Having multigenerational family pack experience is extremely important to the yearlings and the pups and will teach them skills that will add to their ability to be successful in the wild.
The EWC is participating with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Service of the USDA in first-of-its-kind research to have this litter to wear “pup radio” telemetry collars when they are six weeks old until they are approximately seven months old. The collars are designed to stretch and expand with the growing pups and will help biologists locate the pups in the future.
In the wild population, only about 20% to 40% of the pups are surviving each year and USFWS is unable to find the bodies to determine whether the cause of death was poaching, disease, predation or starvation and therefore cannot address the cause.
“What we do in captivity is diminished if we cannot understand how to help the wild population be strong and healthy,” said Regina Mossotti, head of animal care at EWC. “The EWC is one of only two facilities in the world that can help with this extremely important research.”
The Endangered Wolf Centerwas founded in 1971 by Dr. Perkins and his wife, Carol. Perkins headed the St. Louis Zoo from 1962 to 1970 when he became director emeritus. He is best known as the co-creator and host of the famed “Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom. A world-acclaimed zoologist and naturalist, Perkins passed away in 1986.
Pfremmer said the timing of the wolf litter couldn’t be better. “Like many non-profits, the EWC is facing extremely challenging financial times. We hope the public the world over will watch these adorable pups and find it in their hearts to help us be able to afford their care.”